It's Good To Be King - Page 3
COMPETITION AND HONOR
To hear more stories about King (ones that he wouldn’t likely tell me himself), I spent a couple of extra days in Ashland, running with Skaggs on the trails that have become the training grounds for winners of the Hardrock 100, the Western States 100 and other premier ultraraces around the world. Skaggs has toed the starting line with King numerous times over the past five years, occasionally as a teammate but more often as his closest competitor.
The following morning, Skaggs and I set off through the steep hills of madrone and manzanita in the cold January air. He told me about a run that he invited King on several years ago. As the two covered trails such as Pete’s Revenge named suggestively for their difficulty, they accrued several thousand vertical feet and 18 miles of hard running before returning to Ashland. Recalled Skaggs, “Max then looked at me and said, ‘OK,
now it’s time for the workout.’”
Skaggs described the subsequent 10-x-200-meter bursts up one of Ashland’s steepest hills with a lingering distaste. “That’s when I stopped asking Max to run with me,” he says, laughing. Skaggs explains that King is always adding something on to the end of his runs, whether it be hill repeats or back-alley sprints.
Despite King’s competitive drive, Skaggs maintains that he is deeply honorable. In 2010, at the USA 50K Trail Championships, hosted by the Skyline 50K in Central Oregon, Skaggs opened up a sizeable gap on King, in preparation for a potential first win against him. A sabotaged course, where unknown persons removed flags, sent Skaggs several minutes down the wrong trail before he realized his mistake.
“It was my one chance to beat him. And I took a wrong turn, ” he says. After correcting his mistake, Skaggs ran to the finish to find King standing there, on the clock-is-ticking side of the line.
“He was just waiting there.” After allowing Skaggs to finish first, Max walked across the line to claim, what he believed to be, a well-earned second-place finish.
WHERE THE WILD THING LIVES
Heading north and east out of Ashland the road cuts through long, direct corridors of hemlock and lodgepole pine before bowing out to the tough junipers that are better adapted to the high Oregon desert. The mountains give way to hills; the hills give way to flats, from which volcanoes spring up like grand sentries looming over the land. Upon entering the small city of Bend, I immediately noted the fireplace incense of burning juniper.
Sitting in the rain shadow of the Cascades at 3500 feet, Bend lays claim to the most sun and driest climate in a state otherwise synonymous with soggy. What little snow falls during the cold winter months doesn’t stick around for long. “I can run year round here,” says King, who given a choice will take a dry, albeit cold sidewalk over a snowy or ice-covered one. “That’s how I gauge the weather.” It was the first of several telling hints that he would give about the central role that running takes in his life.
I arrived at King’s three-story home, within walking distance from downtown Bend, just before supper. With a small section of the house rented out as a separate apartment and a steady flow of friends and family passing through, King assured me that few corners of the house lay vacant for long. He was lifting four-week-old Hazel from her crib as I entered the living room. “You want to do some core work?” he asked her. She smiled and cooed on his belly while he cycled through several variations of sit-ups.
Sitting at the table was Dory’s father, who greets just about everything with booming laughter. In the kitchen, Dory heated up a pot of chili that a family friend had prepared to help the Kings get through the tumultuous early weeks of welcoming a newborn. Her light brown hair was indiscriminately pulled back revealing the tired but calm face of a woman who had been sampling sleep in two-hour increments for several weeks. She is on maternity leave now, but works at Bend Research (the same company Max left in 2009), conducting pharmaceutical research.
From spectating at college track and cross-country meets at Cornell University in upstate New York to the World Mountain Running Championships in Albania in 2011, Dory has witnessed Max’s steady progression in the sport over a decade. “His dedication is amazing,” she says.
“He’s always doing something to improve his running. I mean, you saw him.” She nodded to where he was conducting his baby core workout.
Max’s departure from Bend Research didn’t come without a little shake. “I gotta admit that when Max told me he was going to quit his job and just be running,” said his father-in-law, not laughing, “I was a little worried.”